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Page 170 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Ain’t bullying so much as stress relief,” Amos said amiably.

Holden nodded at Amos.

“How angry does it make you that this guy wants to steal from refugees, Amos?”

“Pretty f**king angry, Captain.”

Holden patted his pistol against his thigh.

“The gun is just to make sure ‘port security’ there doesn’t interfere until Amos has fully worked out his anger issues.”

Mr. Vedas, customs inspector for port eleven, pads A14 through A22, turned and ran as though his life depended on it, with his rent-a-cops in hot pursuit.

“You enjoyed that,” Naomi said. Her expression was odd and evaluating, her voice in the no-man’s-land between accusing and not.

Holden holstered his gun.

“Let’s go find out what the hell happened here.”

Chapter Seven: Prax

The security center was on the third layer down from the surface. The finished walls and independent power supply seemed like luxury items compared with the raw ice of other places on the station, but really they were important signals. The way some plants advertised their poisons by bright foliage, the security center advertised its impregnability. It wasn’t enough that it was impossible to tunnel through the ice and sneak a friend or a lover out of the holding cells. Everyone had to know that it was impossible—know just by looking—or else someone would try it.

In all his years on Ganymede, Prax had been there only once before, and then as a witness. As a man there to help the law, not to ask help from it. He’d been back twelve times in the last week, waiting in the long, desperate line, fidgeting and struggling with the almost overpowering sense that he needed to be somewhere else doing something, even if he didn’t know what exactly it was.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Meng,” the woman at the public information counter said from behind her inch-thick wire-laced window. She looked tired. More than tired, more than exhausted even. Shell-shocked. Dead. “Nothing today either.”

“Is there anyone I can talk to? There has to be a way to—”

“I’m sorry,” she said, and her eyes looked past him to the next desperate, frightened, unbathed person that she wouldn’t be able to help. Prax walked out, teeth grinding in impotent rage. The line was two hours long; men and women and children stood or leaned or sat. Some were weeping. A young woman with red-rimmed eyes smoked a marijuana cigarette, the smell of burning leaves over the stink of close-packed bodies, the smoke curling up past the NO SMOKING sign on the wall. No one protested. All of them had the haunted look of refugees, even the ones who’d been born here.

In the days since the official fighting had stopped, the Martian and Earth militaries had retreated back behind their lines. The breadbasket of the outer planets found itself reduced to a wasteland between them, and the collected intelligence of the station was bent to a single task: getting away.

The ports had started out under lockdown by two military forces in conflict, but they’d soon left the surface for the safety of their ships, and the depth of panic and fear in the station could no longer be contained. The few passenger ships that were permitted out were packed with people trying to get anywhere else. The fares for passage were bankrupting people who’d worked for years in some of the highest-paying material science positions outside Earth. The poorer people were left sneaking out in freight drones or tiny yachts or even space suits strapped onto modified frames and fired off toward Europa in hopes of rescue. Panic drove them from risk to risk until they wound up somewhere else or in the grave. Near the security stations, near the ports, even near the abandoned military cordons set up by Mars and the UN, the corridors were thick with people scrambling for anything they could tell themselves was safety.

Prax wished he was with them.

Instead, his world had fallen into a kind of rhythm. He woke at his rooms, because he always went home at night so that he would be there if Mei came back. He ate whatever he could find. The last two days, there hadn’t been anything left in his personal storage, but a few of the ornamental plants in the parkways were edible. He wasn’t really hungry anyway.

Then he checked the body drops.

The hospital had maintained a scrolling video feed of the recovered dead to help in identification for the first week. Since then, he’d had to go look at the actual bodies. He was looking for a child, so he didn’t have to go through the vast majority of the dead, but the ones he did see haunted him. Twice he’d found a corpse sufficiently mutilated that it might have been Mei, but the first had a stork-bite birthmark at the back of her neck and the other’s toenails were the wrong shape. Those dead girls were someone else’s tragedies.

Once he’d assured himself that Mei wasn’t among the lists of the dead, he went hunting. The first night she’d been gone, he’d taken out his hand terminal and made a list. People to contact who had official power: security, her doctors, the warring armies. People to contact who might have information: the other parents at her school, the other parents in his medical support group, her mother. Favorite places to check: her best friend’s home, the common-space parks she liked best, the sweet shop with the lime sherbet she always asked for. Places someone might go to buy a stolen child for sex: a list of bars and brothels off a cached copy of the station directory. The updated directory would be on the system, but it was still locked down. Every day, he crossed as many off the list as he could, and when they were all gone, he started over.

From a list, they’d become a schedule. Security every other day, alternating with whoever would talk to him from the Martian forces or the UN on the other days. The parks in the morning after the body checks. Mei’s best friend and her family had made it out, so there was nothing to check there. The sweet shop had been burned out in a riot. Finding her doctors was the hardest. Dr. Astrigan, her pediatrician, had made all the right concerned noises and promised him that she would call him if she heard anything and then, when he checked again three days later, didn’t remember having spoken to him. The surgeon who’d helped drain the abscesses along her spine when she’d first been diagnosed hadn’t seen her. Dr. Strickland from the support and maintenance group was missing. Nurse Abuakár was dead.

The other families from the group had their own tragedies to work through. Mei wasn’t the only child missing. Katoa Merton. Gabby Solyuz. Sandro Ventisiete. He’d seen the fear and desperation that shrieked in the back of his head mirrored in the faces of the other parents. It made those visits harder than looking at bodies. It made the fear hard to forget.

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